Once upon an evening dreary, as I studied, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore- While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my dorm-room door.
“Hey, Sam, you still up?”
Dammit, I thought I was really starting to get this literature homework.
My roommate stumbles in, half-drunk already.
“Hey man, you comin’ to the frat party tonight? Some chicks said they’d come, too!”
Again? Every Friday, like clockwork, Caden heads out to the university’s frat party. Now, it’s not as though I don’t like a good party, I’ve even been my fair share of times, but every weekend? I’d fail if I let him sucker me into partying all the time, and I’m surprised he’s passing himself.
“Ah, nah, I’ve got some work to do again, sorry. You know how it is.”
“Y’sure? I can get ya into the frat, n’then you’d have your extracurricular over and done with! Just need to hang out and get yourself some ladies, man!”
Damn. Still haven’t done that yet, have I? We go to a pretty nice private university, but one of the little ‘extras’ we need to do for our degrees is joining a club or one of a few other university-sponsored extracurriculars for at least a semester. I wasn’t really that concerned about it when I was accepted to the school, but I’m going into my third year, now. I suppose I really should do something about it.
I make my excuses and say my goodbyes to my roommate, making a mental note to leave the door unlocked for when he inevitably loses his keys again. I sit back down, but after all that distraction, I don’t really feel like doing any more readings tonight, so I resolve to find a club and get that little requirement out of the way.
An hour. I’ve been sitting here over an hour scrolling, checking and rechecking the university website, and all I’ve gotten out of it is fifteen new tabs and a deep sense of dissatisfaction. I’m no good at chess, so they’re out. I’m certainly no sportsman, so baseball, football and tennis are out as well. I look at videos online, sometimes, but I somehow get the feeling that I wouldn’t be particularly welcome at the ‘geek culture club,’ either… Wait, a cooking club? I can definitely do that! We could meet, swap some recipies, maybe… I’d have a kitchen, too, so I could finally stop buying instant noodles. I scroll down and- Damn it. Looks like they disbanded two years ago for lack of members.
I sigh and look through my options again. Am I going to have to join the English students’ association? I have a lot of respect for Lord Byron, but I think I’d vomit if I had to think about him on my off time, too. I scroll through the listings one more time- there has to be something. Anything, even. I start getting more desperate, actually considering joining the fraternity if there really is nothing here. I can’t help but laugh when something catches my eye that didn’t before. An occult research club? Oh, come on. Figures we wouldn’t have any outdoor clubs, but there’s some weirdos hanging out and trying to summon demons or whatever. Well, I got a giggle out of it, so I might as well at least see what the club description is like.
I can’t believe I’m down here. Am I a madman? Oh, yeah, going to the scary club some place in the university I’d never heard of was a great idea. Sure, I’d like to think I have a penchant for exploring lonely and abandoned places, some videos I put up online of doing just that actually got pretty popular, even. I might’ve gotten a little excited when I saw the occult club did visits to some abandoned areas to look for ghosts or whatever. But… now I have no idea where I am. The club listing said they met in the arts building, room 098. I managed to find my way into the basement that isn’t on the campus maps, but it’s so twisty and dark down here that I don’t even remember where I came from. Dammit, I can’t just keep walking and hope to find something- I pause in the hall I’m walking through and take a look around. The walls are a sickly shade of light green tile that makes the whole basement feel like a hospital that hasn’t been renovated in forty years, though it’s hard to see, with how dim the flourescent lights are. M-maybe I could find someone to point me in the right direction? …I doubt it, considering that the only thing I’ve heard down here is my own footsteps and the hum of a few old water fountains. I guess I don’t have much choice, though, I’ve already been down here over an hour and I don’t have any leads.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the numbering system down here, in some vain hope I could get an idea of where this room 098 is, but none of it seems to make any sense. I find a door with no number at all and knock.
“Hello? Is anyone there? I’m a bit lost…”
I don’t get an answer, but the door does creak open in response to my knocking, revealing a dark and dusty room within. It looks like… a kitchen? I chuckle a bit. Well, if this is where the cooking club was, it’s no wonder nobody joined it. I take a step inside to take a look and- JESUS FUCK!
Wait. Just some sort of sign that was on the floor. I feel a bit apprehensive about going further inside, but I tiptoe over and pick it up. I know it’s silly, but I’m actually feeling kind of freaked out, now. I just must be getting psyched out from being lost all alone. I bring the sign towards the light to get a better look at it.
‘VA 097- FOODS LAB AND COLD STORAGE’
Wait, then shouldn’t 098 be close? Damn, I guess I got lucky…
I nearly jump straight in the air when I hear it- some kind of moaning and shuffling coming from the walk-in freezer. Ohgodohgodohgodohgod. Uh, um, fuck, uh… I hurriedly throw the sign back down on the floor and shut the doors, running out of the room as quickly as I can. In a panic, I slip into an alcove nearby and keep an eye on the door while I try to hold my breath steady. The seconds drag on like hours, but I don’t hear anything else. …Maybe I was just imagining it? Could’ve just been first-years having sex in weird places, too, I guess. I lean back against the door, relieved.
Don’t know why I felt so scared, that room just felt… off, somehow. I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t matter now, I feel so much better, it’s like I’m floating. No, that’s not quite it… When my back hits the floor and the air is knocked out of my lungs, I find the word I was looking for. Falling. I get back to my feet with a cough and silently curse the door for opening so easily. …This is… strange. The room I fell into is oddly out-of-place compared to everything else in this basement, so much so that I had to look back to check I was still in the same place.
The room feels… unnatural somehow. Colourless. There’s a scrolling grey pattern covering the walls, though most of them seem to be covered by tall, white-framed bookcases, and the wooden floor is aged so much as to be nearly black. The area is quite well-lit, but the majority of the lamps and lanterns are a cold blue-purple, casting odd shadows that add to the room’s already strange looks. But… we had an entire library in the basement? It looks like it’s more than one floor, too, there’s a balcony looking down on another area that looks much the same as the one I’m standing in.
“Can I help you?”
“AH! I-I mean, er, sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
An unimpressed-looking woman removes a pair of glasses and slides them into a pocket. There’s something strange about her as well, but for some reason, it feels like she belongs in this room. She looks youthful, but her hair is grey, and between her pale skin and almost-gothic clothes, she ends up looking like a porcelain doll. The only tip-off that she’s even alive are her her eyes- she looks tired, but they still manage to be uncomfortably piercing.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but you haven’t said anything yet, young man.”
“Oh, er, sorry, I just got a bit lost, I was actually looking for room 098…”
“Well, I can’t blame you for getting lost down here, but- you’ve found your room. Were you looking for something in particular?”
“Ah, yeah, I was actually here to check out a club… uh, the occult club… o-or something? Ahaha…”
“I’m afraid they stopped meeting a number of years ago. Not much interest, you see.”
Dammit, I wasted a perfectly good Wednesday night for this? I sigh.
“Ah, sorry for disturbing you, then… Could you, er… direct me out?”
She chuckles a bit, but her face barely changes from its stony expression.
“Oh, certainly, but would you like to stay a while? I just put the kettle on, if you’d like tea.”
I agree and sit down with her- there’s probably no harm in it. Sitting across from me, she stares at me intently, but doesn’t offer any comment.
“Um, I’m Sam, by the way. English major.”
I extend my hand in an attempt to stem the awkwardness. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much trouble introducing myself to someone before…
She took my hand, and it took a considerable amount of effort not to pull it away, but I ended up letting out a surprised gasp. Her hand was practically icy. She covers her mouth with a hand and pulls the other away from my grip.
“I’m sorry, my hands get cold rather easily… Pardon me. I’m Elisabeth De Vries. It’s nice to meet you, Samuel, it does get a bit lonely down here sometimes.”
“I see, it’s no problem. De Vries… Like the university?”
“Yes, actually, it was my family who founded the university. Bit of a point of pride for me, really, having a university named after me.”
“So, what’re you doing down here anyway, Elisabeth? Homework?”
She snorts indignantly at that.
“No, no. I’m the dean of music, my dear boy. I just prefer it down here, and we don’t have an archivist, so I keep everything in order, even if I’m the only one who uses any of it.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. De Vries… I didn’t mean to be rude, you just look really young, so I thought you might still be a student.”
She puffs her chest out a bit.
“Oh, not at all, I’m glad you think I look good for my age. And please, call me Elisabeth, it’s a bit strange to call me doctor if I’m not teaching you.”
“Alright, Elisabeth it is, then. So, uh, music? I didn’t know we even had a program.”
“Yes, it’s a… small program. Next to nobody in it, really. Still, it gives me plenty of time to myself, which is a boon. Do you play any instruments, Samuel?”
“Ah, I was in a jazz band in high school, so I can play a little bit of violin, but I haven’t practiced in forever, so I’m not sure how good I am any more…”
We sit around for quite some time after that, chatting about music and a little bit of literature. I actually got a few suggestions for books out of it. She seemed a little… intense, at first, but she actually seems fairly nice- she even invited me to come back to the archives if I wanted, though I get the feeling it’s more because she felt a little lonely. Dunno if I will, but it was a kind offer. Well, maybe tonight wasn’t a complete waste.
Jesus Christ, I’m going to kill Caden. I have a research paper due next week- I even told him. So why exactly did he think it was a great idea to bring his friends over for a party? I know the answer, of course. It’s Friday. Again. He treats it like a religious observance- there wasn’t a frat party this week, so of course we had to have a party in our already cramped dorm room. The worst part isn’t even the talking- I might be able to deal with that, but there’s some guy who thought it’d be a great idea to bring a violin, and he might well be the worst fiddler I’ve ever heard. I need to be anywhere but here right now.
I wander the campus in the moonlight. The library’s closed this late, and most of the other usual study spots are locked up. I shift my bag on my shoulder a bit uncomfortably. Should I try the archives? It’s been more than a week since I’ve been there, I don’t really know if Elisabeth’ll even be down there right now. Ah, shit, I don’t have any other ideas right now, so I might as well. Glad I kept that little map Elisabeth drew for me, I’m not sure I could get back there blind again.
I feel a little apprehensive as I come up to the door… What if she’s not there, or maybe she’s busy or something? Well, it looks like the lights are on inside, so that’s a good sign, at least. The doors swing open all-too-easily again at my touch. At least it’s quiet down here, though I think I can hear Elisabeth doing something on the lower level.
The dark figure down there is definitely her- Against her black clothes, I can easily see her grey braid swinging behind her. She’s standing in some sort of… no, let’s be honest, that’s definitely a pentagram drawn in chalk. And in the middle, plain as day, a human body, its limbs mangled and bent out of shape.
Oh god. Fuck. Shit. She’s… oh, god, nobody knows I’m down here. Just as I’m about to run, Elisabeth’s head snaps around unnaturally, nearly one-hundred eighty degrees, and she locks a glowing pair of eyes on me. My heart feels like it’s going to come out of my chest, it’s beating so fast.
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK
I start sprinting as fast as I can towards the exit, desperately hoping to at least get the doors between her and I. I look back and- Is she flying?
Fuck, that’s it. I’m dead. Gone. Sacrificed to Satan. Rest in Pieces.
Oh, fuck, she’s getting closer, any more and- There’s a sudden, splitting pain in my legs as I fall to the ground, the chair I tripped over sliding across the floor. I look down at my legs- my right shin has a bone just peeking through the skin. Nonononononononono- I try to crawl away, but the black-cloaked woman is instantly upon me. Tears streaming down my face, I futilely hold my arms up in some vain attempt to shield myself.
“Jesus Christ, boy! You nearly killed yourself!”
Oh, no… She needs me alive. A-am I going to be tortured, like that other person was? My limbs twisted everywhere-
“Are you alright? You didn’t hit your head, did you? Ah, um, stay still, okay? I just -uh- I-I can fix this, okay? Just… don’t make it worse, okay? H-hang on, I need to see it, i-is that okay?”
She looks over me frantically, brushing the hair out of my face, checking my eyes and taking my pulse.
“U-uh, I think you’re heart’s beating pretty fast? Try to calm down, alright? It’s… going to sting a little, but don’t panic, o-okay? Don’t panic…”
She sounds like she’s saying that more to herself than to me, with how quickly she’s flailing to try and sit me up, muttering reassurances in a shaky voice.
I feel faint from the pain, but manage to stay awake long enough to see Elisabeth holding a glowing hand over my leg, the bones retracting into my skin and- blackness.
When I come to, I find myself on a chaise lounge, a waist-length capelet draped over me as a makeshift blanket. It almost feels like what happened was a dream, but my leg is still sore, and Elisabeth is standing over me, looking expectant.
“Are you feeling alright? I did my best, but it might still hurt a little…”
“Uh… W-why’d you do that if you’re going to kill me anyway?”
She tilts her head, giving me a blanker expression than usual.
“Y-you’re worshipping Satan… A-and the dead body, and then you were flying, a-and your head… a-are you a demon?”
She sniggers at that.
“Good god, Samuel. A demon? Really? I’m almost insulted you think so poorly of me.”
“B-but… magic… and then…”
“I’m a person, the same as you are, boy. Er, was. I’m… living-impaired, shall we say.”
“Y-you’re a zombie?! Oh god, uh, p-please don’t eat me!”
She rolls her eyes at me, unamused.
“Did I eat you the last time we met?”
“H-how do I know you weren’t just trying to fatten me up?!
“Zombies aren’t smart. I’m a lich. I have no reason to eat you.”
“Okay, but… a-aren’t those just like boss zombie-skeleton things?”
“Boy… I hadn’t planned on hurting you, but I won’t make any promises if you keep this up.”
I shut my mouth quickly after that. She tells me she was a sorceress when she was alive, specialising in magic to raise the dead, and ended up finding the holy grail of necromancy- to become more powerful and become immortal, she became undead herself. I need to formulate my next question perfectly, insightfully. I need to defuse the situation and figure out what’s going on at the same time.
“U-uh, so, like… how old are you, then?”
FUCK, NOT LIKE THAT.
She squints at me.
“Old enough to know better, young man. Now, you’re going to have to rest your leg a bit, but I’ll get you something for the pain. Stay still.“
I can hear her boots tapping against the aged wood floors for quite some time after she hurries off.
My head feels like it’s spinning. Magic? Living dead? Immortality? I’ve got to be dreaming. Maybe all that Poe’s been rubbing off on me and I’m just imagining weird things? Ha, yeah, that must be it.
“Are you sure you’re feeling well, Samuel? Why are you pinching your leg?”
I jump. She’s already back?
“Uh, no reason… ha…ha…”
“Right. Well, these caplets should help with the sting, but you’re going to have to come back here tomorrow for me to look at it again.”
She leans in close to me and puts a hand on my shoulder, her strangely-coloured eyes and lack of breathing becoming painfully obvious this near to her face.
“And it is vital, boy, that nobody hears of this. For my sake and yours. Do you understand?”
I nod my head nervously. She might not want to kill me right now, but I’m still terrified of what she could do.
She helps me to my feet and hands me my bag before a lavishly-decorated walking stick is pushed into my hand.
“Good. Use the stick if it hurts too much to walk. Go get some rest now, you need it.”
As I turn away, she stops me one last time.
“Ah, Doctor O’Hare gave you a research paper, didn’t he? You’ll be getting an extension, so don’t worry about it.”
Oh, god. If she knows that much…